Peter Higgs recognized in annual British honors list

Peter Higgs recognized in annual British honors list

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News & Events - Engineering News

January 1, 2013

Peter Higgs, the British physicist who inspired a generation of engineering research into the existence of the particle that now bears his name, has been recognized in the New Year Honors list, according to the BBC.

Higgs has been named as a Companion of Honor in the annual list of notable achievements in the fields of art, literature, science, politics, industry or religion. Although the award confers no official title upon Higgs, the acknowledgement of his work in the study of the building blocks of life by the Queen is another feather in the cap of the 83-year-old emeritus professor of Theoretical Physics.

Since the discovery of the Higgs boson particle in July, considered by many scientists to be the most important find of the last 60 years, there have been calls for Higgs to be knighted for his services to science. Higgs is also believed to be in the running for the Nobel Prize, with his peers believing that this would be a fitting honor for a man of his stature.

Humble beginnings
Born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Higgs was drawn to the field of quantum mechanics by the work of Paul Dirac, a visionary scientist who predicted the existence of antimatter. His studies into the building blocks of life began to be taken seriously in the 1960s, when he and a group of other physicists proposed that there must be a mechanism to explain why elementary particles have mass, sparking a series of engineering research projects into what came to be known as the "god particle."

This particle remained elusive until earlier this year when researchers and scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland announced that they had discovered a particle that was consistent with his theories. This added a final piece to the puzzle of how elements interact, with scientists naming their discovery after the man who had inspired the search.

"It's very nice to be right sometimes," said Higgs when the discovery was made by the team at the LHC. "At the beginning I had no idea whether a discovery would be made in my lifetime because we knew so little at the beginning about where this particle might be in mass, and therefore how high an energy machine would have to go before it could be discovered. It's been a long wait but it might have been even longer, I might not have been still around."

No eureka moment
Higgs, who has claimed that there was no "eureka" moment when thinking about the concept, has also had a theoretical physics building named after him at Edinburgh University, where he currently resides as an emeritus professor. The physicist has also expressed his dislike of the term "God particle," believing that it might cause offence to those of a religious nature.

The award is presented in the name of the reigning head of the British Commonwealth, and Higgs has joined a select group of individuals who have been acknowledged for their work. The British honors system has existed since 1890, and the recipients come from all walks of life, many of whom are nominated by members of their community for charitable works or for making a contribution to society as a whole.

There have been a number of other scientists and engineers honored by the Queen for their work in their chosen field in 2013. Sue Gibson, a professor of chemistry at Imperial College London, has been awarded the Order of the British Empire, while Carol Robinson, also a professor of chemistry, has been made a Dame.

Keith Burnett, a fellow physicist, has been knighted for his services to science, and professor Richard Holdaway, the director of civil space activity coordinator Ral Space, has become a Commander of the British Empire.

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